Special Assignment: 911 abusers cost county money, time

By: Elizabeth Owens Email
By: Elizabeth Owens Email
Aiken EMS

Aiken EMS crews are growing frustrated with the influx of non-emergency callers dialing 911. (WRDW-TV / Nov. 22, 2011)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- Every day more than a thousand people in Aiken County dial 911, which adds up to more than 380,000 calls a year into the dispatch center.

"It gets rough sometimes," said Kristi Eagerton with Aiken County Dispatch.

From heart attacks and strokes to accidents and shootings, dispatch hears the worst of the worst. But those life-saving calls are rare.

911: "Aiken County 911."
Caller: "What am I supposed to do?"
911: "What's wrong?"
Caller: "Nothing but something wonderful ... you know ... "
911: "Do you have an emergency?"
Caller: "No."
911: "Well you are on 911, that's emergencies."

More than two-thirds of the EMS calls coming into Aiken County dispatch end up being nothing short of a $325 dollar taxi ride.

"Some of them don't have family, some of their family don't have anything to do with them. Some don't have money for a taxi," Eagerton said.

Blame it on the economy, folks not wanting front up cash for a taxi or maybe just a lack of education, but non-emergency calls in Aiken County are on the rise.

"It seems to get worse -- the number of people that call for no good reason -- than back in the 1990s," Eagerton said.

In 2010, Aiken County had 19,000 calls. Out of those 19,000, 12,000 ended up being code two returns or a "non-emergency" transport to the hospital.

Harvey Jay, Emergency Services coordinator for Aiken County EMS, says crews do get aggravated about it sometimes.

"They're getting called out for calls that are not true emergencies or calls where people could go by a car, but again we're a county system, and if you call us, we are going to come out there," he said.

Forrest Smith is a repeat offender. He's been arrested seven times for abusing 911.

Sometimes his calls are for non-emergency transport. Sometimes he's just calling to talk.

911: "Aiken county 911."
Smith: "Wwhere all my people at?"
911: "Forrest, you got to stop calling 911!"
Smith: "Shut your yapper!"

So far, Smith has cost taxpayers at least $1,000.

"It's hard to put a dollar amount on it, but ultimately it costs someone's life," said Troy Elwell with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

Jay says when someone calls 911 for a hospital transport, they send their closest ambulance.

"If that ambulance in the area is going out for a non-emergency call, the next call that comes in is an emergency call, then that person is going to suffer because the next ambulance is going to take longer to get there because each ambulance has their own area," Jay said.

Part of the problem in Aiken County is every EMS call but metal health must be dispatched out as an emergency. They do not have certified dispatchers who can legally determine when calls are non-emergency or emergency.

"EMD training would help with something like that," Eagerton said.

EMD or Emergency Medical Dispatching is a certification that gives dispatchers the ability to make a decision on whether calls are really an emergency. Aiken County has the money to send their dispatchers to EMD training, but they do not have time.

"Currently, right now, there is a lot of turnover in the dispatch center ... and we just don't have the manpower at this time," Eagerton said.

Sending dispatchers to training is not a priority with lives on the line.

EMS says they will continue to respond as quickly as possibly to 911 calls, emergency or non-emergency.

"We provide care and try to reach them in a responsible amount of time," Jay said.

Richmond County and Columbia County contract out private EMS services. Those private companies have trained EMDs.

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